Learning to Be Realistic

My lunch date that I referred to in earlier posts felt like a failure on every level.  Instead of trying to jolly her out of her failure mentality I asked her to go home and list all her failures in a notebook and bring them to me in a few days.  She readily agreed to this exercise in shaming because her brain constantly recounted these failures to her all day and night long.  I understood intuitively that if I had asked her to list her successes she would have acquiesced in the moment but I would have never seen her again.

Instead, she showed up with her notebook ready for me to acknowledge that indeed, she was a complete failure.  But here’s the thing that was so predictable and striking about her list.  Pretty much everything on her list was an item she NEVER IN A MILLION KAZILLION YEARS HAVE EVER SUCCEEDED AT!

Sample failings:
1.  I could not get my brother to stop using drugs.
2. I failed at protecting my siblings from my father’s abuse. (She was the youngest child.)
3. I failed to make my mother love me.
4. I have failed to ever have a normal, happy holiday event where my entire family gathered in peace.
See what she did there?  These are all things that are beyond her control.  But the tricky thing about an unhealthy family is members are often made to feel responsible without any authority or right to actually change anything!

Currently she is working on the following perspective shifts:
1. Change is a process not a crisis reaction.  
2. Process takes time.
3. Mistakes are inevitable.
4. Not all mistakes are mine to own.
5. Goals must be realistic and within the realm of my responsibility.
6. Some things are impossible to achieve without the support of all parties.
7. Resiliency and skills like perseverance are only useful if the objective is realistic.


Any of this sound familiar to you and yours?


Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  
Braving The Wilderness, p. 45



One day recently someone asked me to meet them for coffee to talk about how they didn’t think they could keep going to their church (not ours, another large church in the area) because the church was in the middle of a building campaign and they were unable to give at the percentage that the church was asking each of their members to consider.  It turns out this person had lost his job when his company went belly up and he was too embarrassed to share that information.


His deacon had come to visit as part of the churchwide building campaign. My friend assumed that the deacon was accusing him of being unfaithful; it didn’t occur to him that deacons were visiting all the members of the church. I do not know this church well and acknowledged that I did not understand what the situation was from the deacon’s perspective.  But I encouraged my friend to ask himself this question: do you think you go to a good church? Yes, unequivocably yes, was his reply. Then why assume that they would judge you? Why not at least go to someone and tell them the truth of your situation. See what happens. You can always leave, I pointed out, but try not to disappear without clarity.


He did what I suggested; within four days he had a new job (that he loves) working for one of the members of his church.  His pastor suggested that he suspend all tithes and offerings for the rest of the year until the family could get back on more solid footing and suggested other ways he could contribute to the building campaign that did not involve financial promises he may not be in a position to honor.  That’s a good church.


This church gave evidence of being grounded in love and compassion in real time.  I predict that this gentleman, by nature generous, will become in years to come even more generous in his support of his church and maybe especially for those who lose their jobs.  He beams when he speaks of his church and instead of disappearing, he is more involved than ever before. All win.


How can we start thinking more about the “all win” love perspective?  If we can do that, we won’t need to obsess about succeeding; we will be too busy successfully living.

Inextricably Linked

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  
Braving The Wilderness, p. 45



We are all inextricably connected…When we find ourselves believing in the law of scarcity (there is not enough to go around) and striving to compete for love and attention (our primal need is to be known and loved) it is easy to miss the connection we have to each other.  


We are missing that A LOT lately.  We call people snowflakes, which in theory sounds lovely since we are drawn to the beauty and uniqueness of each individual flake as they fall from the sky providing us with school cancellations and an excuse to sit by a cozy fire.  But that’s not what it means. Snowflake is a term we use to describe others who seem to take offense at beliefs or statements that don’t match their own.


Here’s the problem - this does not take into account how inextricably linked we are!  Is it true that some folks are too sensitive? Maybe. But is it also true that many of us are insensitive to how our language and beliefs are truly offensive to others?  Absolutely. Have we considered that maybe someone we are calling a Snowflake is really a person who is calling us out and challenging us in a good way to consider how we need to become more self-aware?  If we could see the spiritual connection would we still speak so disparagingly of another?


Millenials.  They get called names all the time.  Articles are written that tells them that they will never be as successful as their parents, they won’t live as long, they are not...enough.  We are told that they have had it too soft. If that is true, shouldn’t we be having a discussion about the parents of millenials? Either way, what culture deliberately and aggressively denigrates their offspring?  These young adults are our future. I do not know what the heck people are talking about because every one of these kids that I know personally are engaged in carrying about our world and its people. If we realized our connection, perhaps even the damage we have caused by not being the adults some of our young folks needed when they were children, would we still speak so dismissively of any of them, much less an entire generation?


There are countless examples I could give to illustrate how out of touch we are with this precept that we are all inextricably connected.  But for today, try to think about the reality that we are indeed connected to people and the environment and the spiritual realm. Maya Angelou said, “Words are things.  You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words.  I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.” We are inextricably linked; wake up!

Successful Sacrifice

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  
Braving The Wilderness, p. 45



Yesterday I talked about ‘recognizing” as a spiritual practice and used the example of my marriage.  This has not been easy. Reciprocity is a ton harder than contracts and negotiated settlements. It requires conflict and candor and sacrifice.  But it is a function of success on a spiritual scale. And it can result in a ton of #2. CELEBRATING. Over time we improved our communication, conflict resolution, and perspective on “winning as one.”  Mostly competition has slipped away - except when we play board games. This is requiring continued deep spiritual practice and we are not there yet!!


But not a day goes by that we do not  find opportunity to celebrate our connection - with each other, with our children, our grandchildren, our extended family and our community.  I think our marriage helped us learn how to apply these principles in other relationships (some are much harder to figure out than others).


A few years ago I began to notice how one of my parents began to praise unceasingly one of my brothers and either implicitly or explicitly compare with a critical eye the rest of us to him.  This was not new behavior, but it was a shift in the “who” and it came at a time when we were under duress dealing with my mom’s dementia. Living with the “when you win I win” philosophy, I was able to “see” this situation with a bit more clarity than if I had been still in that old mode of competing for love and attention.


It was still annoying.  For most of my life I called my mom multiple times a day.  Every time I got in the car I would call and chat with her.  I know - excessive. Back in the day when we paid for long distance service Pete used to beg me to “cut back” - I never did.  I wanted to talk to my mom and she never lived nearby. Can I tell you how annoying it was when the story in the family became the glowing reports that my brother called every day on his way home from work and the rest of us damn kids never bothered to call or visit?  It was aggravating on the surface of things. But underneath and around and above the chitter chatter and clamor was this one true thing - we were all winning. My mom was getting human contact. We didn’t need to compete for credit. And what a valuable truth that was because I was not going to get an ounce of credit.  Since credit didn’t matter, it did not impact my behavior. I still called; I still visited; I was free to think and plan and do what I believed was the most loving way for me to act on my love for my mom. My marriage taught me this. Brene is explaining why it works. Even though it comes with petty annoyances at times.  How can you find big wins in your sometimes challenging relationships? Where can you celebrate?

Reciprocity as Success

Brene Brown is phenomenal at articulating the problems we are struggling with in our families and communities.  Part of her work addresses the spirituality of relationships. Here is her stab at defining what it means to live spiritually:



Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  
Braving The Wilderness, p. 45


From my perspective, success is just a series of developmentally predictable distractions and chasing after shiny objects without framing it within the bounds of spirituality.  In particular, I love her definition. I believe her insights provide us with some light unto our paths of walking in love. In trying to determine a working definition of success for a spiritual community, I’m going to pick this sentence apart in the hopes that we find both inspiration and some practical steps to take a individuals, families and tribes.


#1. Recognizing…  Spirituality is an inspired way of seeing that requires us to recognize unseen things.  It compels us to look beneath the surface of a thing.


As marriages go, Pete and I do not have a ton of conflict but I am not so sure we were particularly competent at recognizing the spirituality of marriage until we got some coaching.  Early on in our marriage we unintentionally competed. We competed for attention, time (alone or together), winning at stuff. I have some understanding now of why we did this. But at the time, I didn’t really think much about the way we related one way or another except when I was unhappy about a decision.  When that occurred, I thought a lot about how Pete was to blame. One weekend we went on a marriage retreat. I heard one sentence that changed everything for me, “When your spouse wins, you win.” Ahhhhh...I got it. Just to be clear, I was not in an abusive, narcissistic, unhappy, troubled marriage. There weren’t red flags of neglect or disrespect.  We just didn’t have a lot of experience in loving well. But on that night I saw it: we were married. We would win and lose as one. It behooved me to help him win at life and vice versa. We needed to figure out where the “big win” was in every situation for both of us. This would mean that once in awhile a win for one might require the other to FEEL as if they were giving something up. (Pete could play golf on a Saturday and I could feel a little stuck at home with the kids after a long week of being home with the kids while he worked out of town might be one example.  But that might be a big win for both of us if he came home relaxed and ready to be fully present for the rest of the weekend.) But we chose to work hard to practice reciprocity so that overall, at the end of a long and mostly happy marriage, we would both feel like the two luckiest married people on the planet. And I do feel that way.


To be continued...

Living the Life

A while back I (Teresa) wrote a series of blog posts on the three “arenas” of love that we are taught in the scriptures to pursue.  Loving God is the foundation and overarching principle. Think of it as a love sandwich and God is the bread. The sandwich itself is made up of: love and respect for self (self-care and personal responsibility), love expressed within our intimate relationships, and love of the “we” - our community.  My premise in writing was twofold: 1. We need to strive for balance in all three arenas and 2. Each arena serves its own purpose in our lives and when we get those confused we get into trouble relationally.



I think one of the major reasons we struggle to stay connected as a tribe is because we are out of balance.  Time and again I observe how often we ask our intimate connections or community to “do for us” that which we are supposed to be taking responsibility for ourselves.  When that happens we often end up frustrated with the “other”. We get our feelings hurt. We ask why “they” didn’t love us enough “to do_____”. Are we as willing to turn the question around and ask:  “Why don’t I respect myself enough to do____? What is my part in this intimate relationship? How does my presence support the thriving of my community?”


There are a million ways this kind of dysfunction messes with tribe.  Maybe we have the opposite problem. Maybe we become needless and wantless, thinking that our job is to give and give and give ourselves away.  That’s equally problematical. It is unsustainable. And...it creates imbalance among the tribe, where ideally everyone is doing a little which adds up to a quite lovely and balanced way of living amongst one another.  


We have proven by our acceptance of the premise without pushback that we value community but I am not sure we have thoroughly digested what it means to participate in making a community “successful.” I am pretty confident that it doesn’t mean actually succeeding at goals and objectives.  I trust that it is more about showing up. Trying. Being kind. Simple and straightforward. So simple and straightforward that we might miss the beauty of it if we are distracted by “success” in all its traditional presentations.


What is your definition of success from a tribal perspective?  Is it too focused on what you get out of it? Is it not focused enough on what you need from it?  Do you believe it requires that certain objectives are reached? Do we all have to get along? What about the role of conflict within community?  Can you handle the inevitable complaints and criticisms that come when a group gathers? Where does forgiveness AND accountability fit into the picture?  These are good questions that we must address for ourselves personally, between our intimate connections and within a tribe.

We all agree on the need for community

In our community we speak ALL the time about the value of having a tribe.  We write about it in our blog posts. We encourage families who come in to meet with us privately to find a community for support and a place where they can find purpose.  NO ONE has EVER given us any lip about this. Not one single human being has ever said, “You guys are nuts!”



For context, please understand the various things people have given us feedback on over the years - which, by the way, we appreciate.  How else will we learn and grow and improve our serve, but here are a few things that people have felt the need to call, write or meet with us to help us improve ourselves and community over the years.  People complain about: the fact that we respect the 12-step process and mutual aid societies (we are not Christian enough), the fact that we are Christians (we are not recovered enough), the fact that neither Scott nor I are in recovery for a Substance Use Disorder, the location of our building, the fact that we have a building, the fact that we didn’t get a building soon enough, the fact that we didn’t choose a different building, the fact that we study the enneagram (we are devil worshipers and we do not understand salvation), the color of the carpet/the walls, people are too friendly, people are not friendly enough, the kind of chairs we use, snow cancellations, FAILURE to cancel, the time we meet, the number of meetings we hold (too few/too many), the particular scripture verse we chose in a message, the LACK of a scripture verse in the message, a particular book we quote, our Family Education Program (families don’t have a problem, why should you ask us to come to a meeting...just tell me what to do over the phone), our music (too loud, too quiet, not a person’s preferential style), our coffee (too strong, to weak), our food (too much, too little, not considerate of dietary restrictions) Teresa/Scott are too direct/indirect/naive/uninformed and more, how many times we send out emails and the content of said emails (too often/not often enough/bad graphics/mistakes in grammar and spelling/forgetting key details)....to name a few.  Notice that many of these are legitimate complaints. There are many others, but this I think gives you a flavor for our feedback.



That is significant.  


This raises a HUGE question:  why do so many of us continue to struggle with loneliness?  Why do we have trouble figuring out how to be “part of”? I do not know.  I have a few theories. I want to explore what it would look like to be a “success” within a community of people for a few days and see if we can figure some of this out. Remember - we all seem to agree that a community SHOULD be a good thing for us day to day.  Because I have funerals on my mind, I am wondering about this: at the end of the day, at the end of our life, wouldn’t it be a lovely thing to have a community gather that sincerely is going to miss our presence? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a final gathering of loving folks who knew and loved us for who we authentically and imperfectly were?  Wouldn’t that be the greatest success of all? Only people with tribes get tributes like that.

Reframing Success

While we are reframing, what about reframing success?  



Most of the time when I want to have a stellar cup of coffee I pop into one of my two favorite local coffee shops - Roastology or Perk.  Occasionally I find myself in need of coffee but with a grandchild in tow so I go through a Starbucks in our neighborhood that has a drive thru window. (Have you tried out these new car seats? I have a daily limit as to how many times I will strap one of these kiddos in and haul them out.)  Fortunately, I am a lucky duck and often have a kiddo buckled up in the backseat, go through the window often and am familiar with the tricky maneuvers required to navigate the long lines. Last week I circled the building and was about to make the final turn to align myself with the long line of drive thru coffee guzzlers when a lady entered the Starbucks lot.  I motioned her forward. She hopped in line in front of me. Happens all the time. No big deal.


But evidently to her it was a big deal.  She thought I was exiting the area; when she realized I was behind her in line she was mortified.  At least that’s what the barista told me when she handed me my free coffee, paid for with apologies from the lady in the car in front of me.


I had no complaints or awareness of perceived offense.  I showed no displeasure at her entry into the line because I wasn’t displeased.  But it really got me thinking about success in a world that craves it so much.


This gal made an amends for what she perceived as her personal failure to be courteous.  I found it to be an act of great kindness on a day when I was experiencing the world as mean and cold and hard.  The coffee is immaterial; her act of contrition (albeit unnecessary) was a balm on a heavy heart.


Need a bit more success and a little less failure in your life?  Be kind. Just be kind.


Can you think of some opportunities to be kind in a small, quiet way that might make a huge difference to someone else?  You never know who is having a horrible day; your one small act might just turn the day around.

Reframing Failure

I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.  

~ Thomas A. Edison



Words matter.  How we think about ourselves, our perceived successes and our perceived failures is interesting to me.  I have friends with boundless enthusiasm and an almost limitless capacity for turning any situation into a success.  These folks are masters of reframing.


If Edison lacked the capacity to think of 10,000 “ways that won’t work” and instead had angsted over his “failures” - could he have tried that 10,001st time?  I think not. People who cannot handle failure may lack the resilience needed to innovate or even stay with meaningful but mostly doomed endeavors simply because they are meaningful and the right thing to do.


Reframing can be mostly good, and I’d rather have the capacity to reframe than not.  It allows us to adjust our expectations along the way. Edison is a great example of a guy who appreciated the value of a decent reframe.  Instead of considering every experiment a failure, he looked at each one as eliminating a option that was never going to bring him success.



What situations would benefit from some reframing in your life?

"Failure is not an option"

In the movie Apollo 13, Ed Harris (playing the part of Gene Kranz, flight director of Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle missions for NASA) says, “Failure is not an option.”  And then by ding dongy those magicians at NASA SUCCEED! It turns out that Kranz did not actually say this in real life but he loved the fiction so much he used it as a title for his memoir.  It is also the title of a presentation on the History Channel documenting the United States’ space program. If your want to watch this inspiring clip, sure to warm your heart, go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tid44iy6Rjs.  



But the truth is, failure is absolutely an option; it happens every day.  I fail every day to notice a moment when I could have been kinder, gentler, more loving and more helpful.  Don’t talk to me about failure as if it is not an option; don’t tell Kate Bowler who counts the days she will have with her child as opposed to the decades she anticipated that failure is not an option.  Failure is not only an option, it is a guarantee.


Why do we set these standards for success without respecting the reality of failure?  Who got the bright idea that if we double-down on demonizing failure that somehow we would end up with more success?  As far as I can tell, it just increases the likelihood that we will develop nervous tics or a propensity to self-medicate.


In my world acceptance of reality can be the difference between life and death.  I suspect it is a better predictor of someone’s longevity than unbridled optimism.  Acceptance requires that we ALWAYS respect the possibility that failure is an option.


This is hard, but it is also true.  


Is there any relationship or situation in your life that is challenging you to step out of denial and into the world of reality?  Failure is an option. What do you need to accept?

Are you afraid to "fail"?

'When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not have your health, nothing else matters at all.'  

~ Augusten Burroughs


How can we speak of success without looking at its counterpart - failure?  Burroughs seems to imply that health in and of itself is success. Does this then mean that sickness is failure?

Silly, right?  We would never explicitly accuse a sick person of being a failure because they are sick…...would we?  Certainly this is not what Burroughs is suggesting - he’s saying what we all know - it is very hard to be sick, and when we are well we often take our health for granted.  He’s asking us to wake up and be grateful.


Kate Bowler has written a lovely book called “Everything Happens For A Reason And Other Lies I’ve Loved” that challenges us to REALLY look at our perspective on sickness and health.  Kate is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School, a graduate of Yale Divinity School and Duke University. Unless you are a Tarheels fan, Kate’s school resume alone reeks of success.  She has published a book on “the prosperity gospel” called “Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel”. Again, success.


In case the term “prosperity gospel” doesn’t mean much to you, here is how Kate describes it, “The prosperity gospel is a theodicy, an explanation for the problem of evil…[it] looks at the world as it is and promises a solution.  It guarantees that faith will always make a way.” (xiii, Everything Happens For A Reason)


And in the midst of living her big dream life - great job, married to her high school sweetheart, and mother of a toddler - her life was nothing BUT possibility.  Until the day she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.


Is Kate Bowler a failure?  By all objective standards, she is not.  But man, you should hear some of the crazy things people said to her about her cancer.  All well-intended but it seemed like EVERYONE wanted to offer her an explanation, a promise of hope, a potential beat-the-odds-miracle if only she drank this kind of juice or prayed this kind of prayer or believed with all her heart.  


Truth be told, in our world, failure is verboten.  Failure, when it happens, is a reason to blame, judge, hide and run from - which I think it is why we “explain”.  If we are going to wrangle with the meaning of success, we might want to start with dismantling our fear of failure.  


Are you afraid of failure?  Why or why not? What would be the worst failure you could imagine?



I attend a lot of funerals.  It is the rare funeral when at least one person in the crowd of mourners is not interested in finding a success story in the life of the dearly departed.  Rarely do I attend a funeral of someone who has lived to a ripe old age and then slipped peacefully off into the next life while surrounded by beloved relatives.  Regardless the circumstances, funerals are often a time when folks try to make sense of a life that in some cases was a mess. Funerals for folks who have led complicated lives and often passed way too soon are hard to navigate.   



At some of these events there are conflicts among the remaining relatives and friends who are trying in various ways to “manage the story”.  I am often pulled into broom closets or bathrooms to be filled in on who “knows” and who “doesn’t know” all the nitty gritty details of this life and loss.  Other times we have competing ex’s or family feuds that make getting the family seated in the reserved pews an act of diplomacy. Many, many times we are surrounded by sadness and regret, guilt and frustration.


Over the years I have developed a policy about funerals.  Someone might say, “Hey, I want you to do my funeral.” And I reply, “Sure, but you need to know that I don’t lie at funerals.”


Lately I’m changing my tune.  I am coming to realize that finding the truth in life or death is not as easy as granting the pastor permission to tell the truth.  Humans are complicated, so why wouldn’t the wrestling through with the mourning of one’s passing and/or the celebration of their life be less so? Who is to say how to interpret the actions, intentions, and various ways we all interact with the world?  The older I get the less confidence I have that I can find the “truth” much less speak coherently of it during the stress of a funeral gathering.


Today, I pray for each of us that when our time comes, we will have lived in such a way, within a tribe of people, that stories can be told that reflect the often-complicated circumstances of our authentic albeit imperfect lives with tenderness.  To do so, we have to continue to tease out what it means to live successfully. In the days ahead I will continue to unpack and reframe success - with the end in mind. (What if you wrote your obituary, how would you want to be remembered?)

Failure can be a success

It's important to not always be "successful" in life, at least in the traditional sense.  Failure to be traditionally successful can, in fact, foster the kind of growth that allows us to be softer, gentler, kinder, more empathetic and well-rounded people.  It can be the spark that allows us to pursue a life of greater meaning, one defined by our call to point towards God's gifts of mercy, grace, forgiveness, love, etc.


These failures may not help our ego.  They may not help our status, our prestige, or our wealth.  They may not give us stories to tell at parties. But they may help us become people.  What greater calling can we have than to become a person?  Specifically, a person whose life somehow, in some small ways, demonstrates God's values or character?


I may die with all the prestige in the world, but if my loved ones gather before the funeral and talk about what an asshole I was...what good was my broader reputation?


Success as Mercy

I don't think we spend enough time asking ourselves questions.  So often we're out of balance simply because we haven't taken the time to deeply reflect.  Use these questions today as a guide in re-thinking success and the role it has played in your life.


Do you live as if you value what you say you value?  Do you prioritize it?


Consider "the kingdom."  The kingdom of God is the new reality God is bringing to earth, a reality that perfectly represents God's will for creation.  It is defined by mercy, grace, forgiveness, and self-sacrificial love. It is a place where all are valued and have status. It is our call to point to this reality.


Do you consider whether or not you demonstrate mercy, or grace, or forgiveness, or self-sacrifice love?  Do you consider whether or not these are defining traits in your life, and in your community's life? Are you attempting to move in this direction, however imperfectly we may do so?


Do you consider whether or not you display these attitudes at work?  At home? With friends? With family? When you fall short, do you strive to right that wrong?


If so, you are successful.


Success and Sacrifice

I don't think we spend enough time asking ourselves questions.  So often we're out of balance simply because we haven't taken the time to deeply reflect.  Use these questions today as a guide in re-thinking success and the role it has played in your life.


Do you live as if you value what you say you value?  Do you prioritize it?


Consider sacrifice.


Do you sacrifice?


Do you give up an opportunity for more money because you know it will benefit you, your family, or your community in other ways (ie., it benefits your mental health, happiness, availability, etc.)?  In other words, are you willing to live a simpler, humbler life in order to help others thrive? Conversely, are you willing to take on more responsibility in order to help others thrive? Are you aware when you want to say yes to something simply because of ego?  If so, are you then able to say no?


More Success(ful) Questions

I don't think we spend enough time asking ourselves questions.  So often we're out of balance simply because we haven't taken the time to deeply reflect.  Use these questions today as a guide in re-thinking success and the role it has played in your life.


Do you live as if you value what you say you value?  Do you prioritize it?


Consider character.


Do you consider the development of character a success?  When you react to a difficult situation with grace when you've had a lifetime of reacting, well, poorly, do you think of that as success?


When you have something difficult to discuss with a close friend or family member and you pause to prepare, plan your speech, and speak your truth calmly and clearly, do you consider yourself a success?


You should.


Success(ful) Questions to Wrestle With

I don't think we spend enough time asking ourselves questions.  So often we're out of balance simply because we haven't taken the time to deeply reflect.  Use these questions today as a guide in re-thinking success and the role it has played in your life.


What do you value?


Do you live as if you value what you say you value?  Do you prioritize it?


When you have to make a major life decision- do your values receive more emphasis than other factors on the pro's and con's list?


Consider community.


Do you consider how your family will be impacted?  Do you consider how your community will be impacted?  Do you seek feedback and, if so, do you take it seriously?  Do you pick up the phone and call someone when you feel yourself trending towards isolation?


If you do, that is success.


Success can look a million different ways

What else can success look like?


It depends.  It can look like a million different things.  It doesn't have to have anything to do with money.  I used the example yesterday as a demonstration of a person who represents non-dualistic success.  He earns a lot of money, but his money does not define his life. He uses it, not the other way around.


I've known people who are incredibly greedy who make middle class money.  I've known people who make upper class money who give, and give, and give, and give.  The important thing to remember is that a person's financial success, or their prestige, does not tell us anything substantive about that person.


People with money are not people to imitate simply because they have money.  But, if they demonstrate a certain kind of character with how they use their money, then there is something there worth paying attention to.  So often we elevate people in our minds simply because we know they do well in their career. We need to dig a little deeper in our evaluations because we need to be discerning about who we idolize and, at the same time, because we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Do not become trapped in thinking that success can only look one way for you.  If that singular vision does not come to fruition, we will struggle to see ourselves as anything but a failure.  Successful living is so much more than whether or not we accomplished one particular dream or one particular goal.  It is about the various ways in which we pursue our certain way of seeing.  

While individual goals may be thwarted and individual dreams may die, these things cannot stand in our way of living out our core values.  


Unified Living

From yesterday:  Success is a matter of consistently living in accordance with our values, our certain way of seeing.  It is about creating a life that fosters our ability to do that consistently. And, then, it is about allowing ourselves to be affected by those around us such that we're interested in helping them create meaning in their lives.


Yesterday I wrote about what success looks like for one of my best friends.  He has so cultivated the art of service and self-sacrifice that he is not overcome by the wealth and prestige he has acquired.  For him, they are merely tools to be relied on when the situation calls for it.


In order to follow his example, we may need to temper our own ambitions, goals, and desires from time to time.  He lives a unified life and so his ambition does not overtake his vision for life. He does not let one area (work) dominate others.  He is unified in terms of his pursuit of his purpose- his call to love God and others. It is because of this that his work, his wealth and prestige, can be tools, rather than "meaning makers."


And this is another lesson I learn from him: success is about a unified life, trying as much as we can to live without cognitive dissonance.  Meaning, we live consistently. For instance, his work life is such that it could easily become all about the status and the money if he allowed it.  He could work harder for longer and become singularly focused on his work, casting friends and family aside. But, should he do this, he's no longer living in accordance with the certain way of seeing that tells him his call is to be a living reflection of God's values.  So, in this hypothetical, he would have tremendous cognitive dissonance. His actual lived experience would be incommensurate with his belief system. That's a recipe for disaster.


Success: A Practical Example

Success, from the standpoint of faith, means learning to accept this new version of the self that God is trying to offer.  We learn to prioritize grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, gentleness, patience, and so on, because there is no more worthy calling than to point, in small, humble ways, to the new, hopeful reality God brings to the world.


Time for the practical.  I promised nine days of theorizing.  You got ten days. Now, we move on.


What does all this nonsense actually look like?


Perhaps we should work with examples.


We talked early on about the importance of refusing to limit our understanding of success to wealth and prestige.  But, there is no need to be completely dualistic in our approach. One of the most successful (in all ways) people I know is one of my best friends.  In fact, he is Norah's godfather. He has wealth and prestige in his field- but he has not let these things define him.


He is an attentive and supportive husband.  A concerned and present father. A generous giver of his time and resources.  He is always the first person to reach out and check on me when things have gone wrong- he practices the power of presence.


His wealth and prestige do not make him a successful person- but because he has them he is able to lean into his generosity in ways that someone less wealthy cannot.  In other words, he uses his achievement to build up those around him. This is a key point.  

Let's be clear- you do not need to have achieved great things in order to offer dignity and respect to everyone you meet.  His achievement does not make him "better" equipped to become a successful human and, in fact, it may get in a person's way.  After all, becoming wealthy and prestigious brings with it huge temptation with the strong potential to lead a person down a very dark path.  He's been able to resist that temptation and become a successful human being in spite of its presence in his life.  


Success is a matter of consistently living in accordance with our values, our certain way of seeing.  It is about creating a life that fosters our ability to do that consistently. And, then, it is about allowing ourselves to be affected by those around us such that we're interested in helping them create meaning in their lives.  


It is my friend's ability to do each of these things that makes him the success that he is.